Which Products are the Best for Dry Skin AND Acne?

Dry Skin and Acne Products

Recently, I received the following reader question:

Hi, I am a dry skin sufferer as well as a long-time acne sufferer. I’ve been frustrated trying to find preventative acne products that won’t further dry my skin out. Every time I find an article about dry skin AND acne, I read that my skin isn’t *really* dry – but it honestly is! I took Accutane several years ago and my skin has been on the dry side ever since. For a couple years after finishing the drug my skin was flawless, but now 5 years later, I am breaking out like crazy! Do you have any advice or product recommendations for me? Am I crazy or is it really impossible to have dry skin and acne? By the way, I am only 20 years old and I have very small pores. My breakouts are on my cheeks and chin. Finally getting rid of my acne was life changing for me. Its re-emergence is stressing me out – I want to go back to feeling confident and comfortable in my own skin! Thank you! –KR

Dear KR,

Acne and dry skin are not that uncommon, especially when you consider that some of the agents used to treat acne can be drying to the skin. Most skin care and cosmetics companies ignore this fact, instead assuming that acne and oily skin always go hand-in-hand, which could not be further from the truth.

Here are the best products for people with acne and dry skin:

Gentle, non-acidic, non-soap cleanser

You need a cleanser that is neither acidic (like most anti-acne cleansers) nor basic (like most soap cleansers). 

Nearly all skin care experts will agree that basic cleansers should not be used with dry skin. Basic cleansers, like soap, disrupt skin’s natural barrier function (Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 2006), leaving the skin more susceptible to infection by bacteria, including the acne-causing bacterium P. acnes, as well as inflammation associated with acne. 

Yet, going completely acidic with your cleanser isn’t the answer if you have dry skin. In general, skin care experts will tell you salicyclic acid is great for use with acne. This is because salicyclic acid increases cellular turnover and softens the keratin within the skin, resulting in fresher, more renewed skin cells with regular use.

Yet salicyclic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid, able to penetrate into the pores even more deeply than alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and malic and mandelic acids, according to Dr. Heather Brannon, M.D. The drying effect of salicylic acid, coupled with its heightened penetration into the skin, can leave dry skin types feeling parched.

So the answer? Use a pH-balanced, gentle skin cleanser. I recommend our FutureDerm Skin Reborn Facial Cleanser 8.31 ($39, FutureDerm.com/shop), which contains 8.31% SiQube®, which is designed to remove dirt and debris, and to keep pH within a healthy range in the skin.

Lactic acid treatment

Most acidic ingredients are drying for the skin when they are used in high concentration. But this is not the case with lactic acid, which is so hydrating, it is prescribed in concentrations of 12% for treatment of dry skin as AmLactin.

Lactic acid is beneficial for acne because it increases cell turnover and exfoliation rates, but it does not do so as markedly as ingredients like glycolic acid. Proof of this is in the fact that glycolic acid will temporarily thin the skin after use, whereas lactic acid will not (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 1996). So you maintain your skin’s integrity with lactic acid, resulting in less irritation and more hydration. I like Azfasst, with 6% lactic acid.

Green tea-based lightweight moisturizer

The weight of the moisturizer is where it gets tricky: you need a moisturizer that is hydrating enough to treat the symptoms of dry skin, but lightweight enough not to clog the pores. In general, the lipid to water content of the moisturizer will control its level of hydration. Many moisturizers used to treat dry skin are emollients, which means that they use lipids and oils like lanolin, paraffin, and waxes to soften the skin. Unfortunately, these ingredients can be aggravating for acne, and prevent skin from turning over at maximal efficiency.

Your best bet is to look for a moisturizer that has a lower content of lipids and oils, and more water-based ingredients. I like ProActiv Green Tea Moisturizer, shown above.

A second thing to look for in a moisturizer for dry/acne-prone skin is green tea. Green tea is an excellent ingredient for the skin that exhibits many beneficial effects, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and photoprotective properties (Cosmetic Dermatology, 2010). For acne, green tea helps to fight inflammation, including swelling and redness. For dry skin, it is soothing and has mild UV-fighting properties. (Oily skin contains trace amounts of natural vitamin E, which provides a small amount of UV protection. Dry skin tends to have less vitamin E stores).

Colloidal oatmeal based-masque

I also like colloidal oatmeal for acne and dry skin. Studies published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology suggest using colloidal oatmeal as a first-line treatment to alleviate other inflammation-based disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, and atopic dermatitis.

Benzoyl peroxide on-the-spot treatment


There’s a lot of speculation surrounding exacty how benzoyl peroxide works within the skin. One theory is that benzoyl peroxide may work by causing oxidation within the follicles of the skin, causing an eruption that gets rid of the pustule faster. While this is great for getting rid of acne quickly, it is also not-so-great for anti-aging purposes, which often use antioxidants to fight the very kind of oxidation benzoyl peroxide *may* cause.

Therefore, I like benzoyl peroxide only on the spot. Use 10%, the maximum dose, and apply it carefully to the blemish 2-3 times a day. It works. But avoid any treatments that are recommended for use all over the face — you’re just asking for trouble. 

Avoid anti-acne products with charcoal and skin care oils

If you have dry skin and acne, avoid anti-acne products with charcoal. While acne-prone skin is great with charcoal because it draws out the impurities, it can also draw out some of the skin oils that dry skin desperately needs. So avoid it.

Despite what well-meaning skin care salespeople might tell you, skin care oils should also be avoided. These oils are great for dry skin, but they will slow cellular turnover (exfoliation rates), resulting in slower skin turnover.

Want to try all of the products above for dry and acne-prone skin?

If you’d like to try all of the products listed above for dry and acne-prone skin, get the FutureDerm Recommended Dry/Acne-Prone Skin Care Kit for $199 in the Shop today!

Hope this helps!
All the best,
Nicki

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by Nicki Zevola

3 thoughts on “Which Products are the Best for Dry Skin AND Acne?

  1. Seppo says:

    Good recommendations, Nikki. I was just wondering what do you think about ceramides and essential fatty acids for dry skin. There’s quite a bit of research showing both can be really helpful in dry skin conditions, like eczema, but more or less zero research on how they affect dry, acne-prone skin.

    In my reading of research ceramides could be especially useful in this this situation. They may help to correct some of the fatty acid imbalances in sebum in acne-prone skin. Curious to hear your thoughts.

  2. Nicki Zevola says:

    Hi @Seppo,

    I do very much like ceramides and essential fatty acids for dry skin. These compounds mimic the natural hydrators within the skin.

    I especially like them when they are used in conjunction with soothing and penetrating ingredients, like colloidal oatmeal and propylene/butylene glycol, respectively, because these ingredients can help to soothe irritation that often occurs with dry skin, and combat the fact that ceramides and fatty acids are large molecules that tend to rest atop the skin.

    Hope that helps,
    Nicki

  3. Jano says:

    I have dry skin and acne and am wondering what sunscreen you would recommend. I need a good one as I’m using retinol as well as your recommended dry skin/acne products.

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